Things to Consider Before Accepting Your [Architecture] Dream Job

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There are but very few feelings that come close to getting selected for your dream job!

When all those hours of hard work, sleepless nights of anticipation, and multiple rounds of dreadful interviews yield the best result, what more can you possibly ask for? And once you have the contract, the obvious step is to sign it.

But we want you to take a few moments and think about it. Is your dream job really worth it? And by worth, we don’t only mean a handsome salary.

There are so many things to consider before making that call. After all, getting into a job is no child’s play. So, it only makes sense to accept a role that’s the right fit in the long run. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the 25 key things that need to be taken care of before signing that elusive contract.

Without further ado, let’s begin!

Things To Consider Before Accepting An Architecture Job

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  1. Base Salary

As with any other profession, considering the base salary is of utmost importance. And when people have multiple contracts in hand, they tend to go with the one that offers the highest pay.

Apart from your skill and qualifications, there are other variables that ultimately define whether or not the compensation is suitable. Hence, it may not be a wise decision to blindly opt for the highest package.

For instance, smaller firms that generally employ less than 50 people have a larger salary range, meaning they are more flexible in negotiating the salary. Similarly, the area or region also plays a role in defining the average salary. Cities like New York or Chicago are expensive, so the salary should be in line with the cost of living.

Plus, firms in these cities are more likely to work on larger and more competitive projects, correlating to better fees and salaries. So, make sure you have a complete understanding of the commission scheme before taking up the offer.

  1. Contract Type

The contract type is usually based on the working hours, but not every firm has the same policy. Now, let’s look at the three commonly found categories:

  • Direct Hire

The standard contract for permanent employment, it entitles an employee to all the benefits of the firm and sets out the salary from the get-go. However, they can be more binding, especially with non-compete clauses to prevent moonlighting.

  • Consultant

These contracts are typically meant for short-term employment to reduce costs and obligations to the firm. That said, the base salary is pretty high since the person is not eligible for bonuses and benefits.

  • Contract-To-Hire

An employee works as a consultant for a said time (usually 3 to 6 months) as a trial. Post that, the firm decides if he can be hired for a full-time position. This way, you get a good idea of the responsibilities and work culture before making a decision.

  1. Bonuses

Much like contracts, bonuses can also have many forms, like an annual bonus, 401k profit sharing, stockholder bonus, licensure bonus, quarterly profit sharing, firm performance bonus, etc. You can speak to the hiring manager, HR department, or even ex-employees to thoroughly understand the package.

In this regard, the firm may be hesitant to state a fixed number for any particular bonus as they are discretionary and often not guaranteed. But you can get an overall range based on the structure of the previous year.

  1. Medical Cover

Medical cover is a key parameter for jobs in the US as other regions like Canada and the majority of Europe include public healthcare. Depending on the plan that you’re opting for, the costs may come to a staggering $10,000 per year. And the amount can substantially increase if you have a big family to take care of.

It may be helpful to know that negotiating beyond the available package or providers won’t yield any results. Hence, we’d advise focusing on other important factors.

  1. Dental, Vision, Life And Long Term Disability Insurance

Apart from the core medical cover, these are some related benefits that a firm may offer. Although it’s a nice feeling to have a wide range of medical covers, keep in mind the costs that you may be paying indirectly to avail these. Moreover, they are less out-of-pocket expenses than you’d expect, so don’t base your decision around them.

  1. Retirement Plan: 401k Or Similar

The standard program lets employees contribute a portion of the salary for their retirement plan. While many firms facilitate contributing your tax earnings to the retirement plan, others may do it a bit differently. In this case, the plan will depend on the provisions of the said program that the firm is following.

Irrespective of the plan, there’s a fixed employment period of 6 to 12 months as the eligibility criteria to participate. And similar to the medical coverage, there’s no scope for negotiation with the provider or type. But contributing even one percent of your salary can make a huge difference during retirement. So, ensure that you fully understand everything on offer to maximize the benefits.

  1. 401k/Profit Sharing

Going back to our point of bonuses, profit sharing may also take the form of contributions from the employer to your retirement account. It’s a once-in-a-year affair that usually takes place at the of year and can be thought of as a bonus that comes with tax benefits.

Although each firm has a different policy regarding the percentage of the contribution, it usually varies between a fixed or discretionary rate.

Beyond that, a scaled vested percentage applies to the contribution based on the employee’s service period from the date of contribution. For example, a 20% vesting per year structure can be a great addition if you plan to work for a long time. But if you don’t plan to continue for long, choosing some other benefit may be better.

  1. Vacation

The vacation period is one of the more negotiable points in a contract and varies from one region to another. While the average time is about 2 weeks in the US, it may be more than 4 weeks in European countries. You can either take a vacation at the end of the year or use it immediately.

If vacation is a top priority, you can try negotiating on additional time, which can be ongoing or a week-long extra time for signing bonus. Other than that, the less desirable and unpaid leaves can be merged with the PTO (personal time off). Before negotiating, make sure you know all the criteria included in the contract.

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  1. Public Holidays

Unless you can create one, expect almost every firm to have around 8 public holidays in a calendar year. And obviously, it’s not negotiable.

  1. Sick Leave

Like a lot of other aspects on the list, the sick leave policy can also differ from one firm to the other. You can take the day off if you’re ill or have to attend to a sick family member and can accumulate them if not needed at all. Later, you can accrue the leaves at a maximum rate of 10 leaves per year, which is the standard norm.

On the other hand, some firms may have a more honor-based system with no fixed number of sick leaves per se. However, this can become a misused privilege. And to prevent that, you may have to furnish a valid doctor’s report to avail the leaves.

  1. Professional Benefits

It’s not unusual for architecture firms in the US to pay for AIA memberships, conferences and certifications, which could otherwise cost you thousands of dollars. While some firms may cover the cost of Internet Development Programs, others may pay for a Project Management Professional (PMP) or LEED certification.

Another lucrative offer in this regard is that architecture firms often bear the cost (in a one-time or part-by-part payment format) of an employee obtaining his license. Not only that, but larger organizations may even offer a bonus of up to $5,000 for successfully acquiring the license. Since licensed employees are highly likely to bring more business, it’s a win-win situation for both the firm and employee.

  1. Trainings And Education

Especially in a fast-paced profession like architecture, it becomes all the more relevant to stay updated with the latest trends and technologies. Hence, architecture firms often help their employees learn new skills or improve on the existing ones. Apart from boosting your career, it aids the long-term success of the organization.

Your office may have the provision of paying for additional training classes Revit, BIM, or ‘Lunch and Learn’ type programs that’ll keep you updated with the new software in the industry. Besides, such programs guide the entire team to move in the direct direction. It’s a chance to work and grow with the organization.

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  1. Business Expenses

If your job requires you to travel frequently, you should thoroughly check the terms of reimbursement in the contract.

For instance, most offices require you to preserve all the trip-related bills and reimburse the total expense at the end of it. This method is known as expense reimbursement, where the company pays you back the money spent for the company’s cause in the working time. So, make sure it covers your travel expenses, food, lodging, ground transportation and any incidental charges.

Alternatively, your office may also provide you with a corporate credit card. However, be informed that with some credit cards, the assigned holder is liable to pay for the expenses if the firm cannot cover them. If possible, definitely opt out of such an arrangement as it may make you run into trouble.

  1. Work Hours

Long work hours are an unwanted yet common attribute of the architecture community. Remember those all-nighters in the architecture school? They were there so that you can carry the tradition into your professional life. All architecture firms, and especially the hot-shots have an unwritten rule demanding 70 to 80 hours of work per week.

No matter whether you’re working 15 hours or 50, it ultimately boils down to your goals and priorities. If you want to work long hours for a short period of time, gain experience and then move on, it may not be a bad idea. Or, you can work your way through the levels to prove your worth.

Furthermore, you may want a job with a better work-life balance, especially if you have or are about to start a family. Deadlines are another aspect that can make you work longer. But if you look at it from an objective point of view, you should be able to complete the work within the deadline.

Whatever the case, make sure to check on the finer details like the official work hours, weekend work schedules and so on.

  1. Project Type

There isn’t a single factor influencing the project type that you want to opt for. Usually, it’s a mix of personal choice and long term career objects.

For example, would you like to design custom houses or work on large-scale residential projects? Similarly, if you plan to start an architecture firm in the future, you may have a set of job preferences that you think will make the experience count.

Moreover, there’s the possibility of a clash of choice, where you may be assigned a project to design memorials when your interest lies in residential structures. Therefore, it becomes extremely crucial to understand the types of projects that will be assigned to you and make the right pick.

In case you’re not satisfied with them, you can look for other prospects. Besides, it will come in handy while negotiating the job offer, thereby increasing your chances of getting into a project of your choice.

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  1. Responsibility

Since architecture is an organization-oriented job, there are multiple things that need to be simultaneously taken care of. Tracking the progress of different projects, maintaining contract records and outsourcing required tasks are just a few of them. That said, it’s important to have a clearly defined list of the responsibilities that you’re in charge of, be it in the contract or via conversation with the concerned authority.

In doing so, look out for the following points:

  • Number of people under your management or guidance
  • Is it a new responsibility or something that you’re familiar with?
  • Projects and locations under your charge
  • Records to be maintained

In general, the number of responsibilities is directly proportional to the chances of an increased salary.

  1. Internal Support

A significant advantage of working with larger firms is getting the assistance of different dedicated teams to help your work more efficiently. There are specialists for particular jobs, including 3D modeling, graphic designing, model making, constructing modeling, etc. If you face any difficulty at any stage, all you have to do is connect with them via the intercom or walk a few steps to reach their cubicle.

Also, there may be joint training sessions, which will give you a basic idea about these aspects. If you can grasp them with perfection, be assured about a smooth progression alongside business growth.

The lack of an interconnected internal support system in a smaller organization can take up hours of research to solve the said problem.

  1. Stability

As far as architecture is concerned, stability is two-way traffic.Talking about the firms, the third most important criteria that they look out for (after primary education and related skills) is stability.

This means most of them will prefer candidates who have worked for a considerable time without changing jobs frequently. Hence, it might be better not to be a job hopper and change companies without any valid reason.

Likewise, before accepting a job, make sure that you have a thorough understanding of the policies and are fully comfortable with them. As unsurprising as it may sound, larger projects have a significant chance of getting canceled at any stage. But a decade long airport project, due to its long schedule and larger momentum is less likely to get abruptly halted.

Secondly, if you need to relocate, conduct in-detail research of the market there to know about potential perspectives in case the firm suddenly shuts down. Despite being an unpredictable market, skill and experience can guarantee job security like no other.

  1. Office Location

Considering the office location goes well beyond just the time or expense required for commuting. But being the fundamental points of consideration, you can talk to your co-workers about their schedules and living situations can provide useful information.

Generally speaking, most big cities have their biggest architecture firms located in the downtown, where housing is quite expensive. On the flip side, these are the areas that have excellent opportunities. Similarly, urban areas have higher job openings owing to the large population of both people and buildings.

A longer commute time or slightly expensive transport may be the sacrifice you make for working with some of the best names. Here again, the decision will be based on your priorities and short-term and long-term career goals.

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  1. Office Space

Office space is a true reflection of the organization’s brand, and as such, can have a huge impact on the employee’s productivity, efficiency and overall well-being. After all, who wouldn’t want to work in a surrounding that best suits their personal preference?

In that sense, check if your allocated space is a cubicle, open office, or private office. If you become easily distracted, an open space can hamper your efficiency. Alternatively, you may like it if you like to be amidst constant interaction.

Most architecture firms today have an open office layout that promotes space-saving. But if you prefer to work in a quiet area, you may have to go for a smaller office or request your employer for a separate space.

  1. Start Date

A majority of employers assume that you have to serve a two week notice period at the previous office before joining a new one. Given their immediacy of the requirement, you may also be able to join at a much later date. In fact, this deferred joining can become a much-needed break to complete previous projects or to simply refresh the mind before starting a new position.

If asked initially about your preferred joining date, it’s probably best to answer with the nearest possible date. Later, you can negotiate this point if you wish to.

  1. Brand Name On Resume

There’s nothing wrong in working for a reputed firm with a focus on getting that brand name on the resume. However, the problem arises when that becomes the sole motive. It may so happen that the office environment or work structure compel you to quit shortly after joining. In that scenario, the short-lived working period can create a negative impression- it may make potential employers assume your shortcomings.

  1. Match For Experience

Goes without saying that your new job role will be an obvious fit if you’ve related specialization or have previously worked in that sector. But if you’re looking for a change, ensure that your firm knows there will be a learning curve involved.

For example, you may come from a two-member firm specializing in refurbishing residential buildings to a global organization designing commercial spaces. Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of pre-joining preparation as well as post-joining training.

  1. Match For Your Goals

A job is usually not something that you can pick up today and leave tomorrow. Hence, it only makes sense to go for one that aligns with your long term career goals. In an ideal scenario, the employer-employee relationship should be like that of a barter system. If you’re producing the right work for the organization, it should help you grow in your career path.

That said, this barter system may be absent if you choose the wrong job. Invest considerable effort to ensure that the job helps you advance on the path which leads you to where you’d like to see yourself after 10 years.

  1. Recreational Activities

While recreational activities shouldn’t make or break your decision, it’s nice to know about the efforts that the employer puts to help you relax. Many firms host lavish Christmas parties or arrange for yearly gala carnivals. On a ground level, the fun team bonding sessions break the barrier between employees and employers, thereby enhancing productivity. And the ‘lunch and learn’ programs assist in learning new topics over good food.

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Final Words

That’s it from us for today’s guide!

Sure, such a vast list can become intimidating, but when it comes to your dream job, ignorance is NOT bliss! So, don’t let anything slip from your mind. Always assess the pros and cons before signing any offer, be it your first or last. But before doing so, keep a calm mind to make the right decision. After all, good things seldom happen in haste.

With this, it’s time for us to say goodbye. We hope our efforts prove beneficial to your cause. Signing off with best wishes!

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